News

Palo Alto ponders long list of labor reforms

City officials consider narrowing scope of binding-arbitration panel, scrapping arbitration altogether

As Palo Alto officials look to reform the city's binding-arbitration provision, they are specifically looking at ways to narrow the panel's focus and requiring it to consider impacts to other city departments.

The existing law, which the City Council is considering changing or repealing, enables an arbitration panel to settle contract disputes between city management and Palo Alto's police and fire unions. The council's Policy and Services Committee discussed the provision, and possible ways to change it, on Tuesday night. Any changes would have to be approved by the city voters.

The committee on Tuesday went through a long list of possible reforms and directed City Attorney Molly Stump to return on July 12 with language that would amend the City Charter.

These changes could include requiring the arbitration panel to consider the city's financial outlook before making its decision; limiting the scope of the panel's discussion; and new criteria for choosing an arbitrator. Under the proposed changes, the arbitrators could only discuss wage and benefits issues -- not factors such as work rules and management rights. The panel could also be required to consider the impacts of its decision on the city's overall financial picture and on services in other departments.

City Manager James Keene said the city is also considering reforms that could be put in place should binding arbitration be eliminated altogether -- an alternative championed by Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Greg Scharff. These reforms include setting up a mediation process and setting a schedule for labor negotiations.

Committee members Larry Klein, Pat Burt and Karen Holman discussed the long list of reforms Tuesday night, but did not reach any decisions on what types of changes voters can expect to see on the ballot. Committee Chair Gail Price, the council's staunchest defender of binding arbitration, was absent.

The council has been considering changing or scrapping the binding-arbitration provision for more than a year. Opponents of the provision have criticized is as "undemocratic" because it empowers an unelected arbitrator to make decisions that could severely impact the city's budget.

Even as the city is considering changing the provision, it is preparing to enter into binding-arbitration proceedings with its firefighters' union this fall. Contract talks between the two parties have dragged on since May 2010 and remain at an impasse.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by just do it
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2011 at 10:44 am

It has been reported that binding arbitration has resulted in results less favorable to the taxpayers and more favorable to unions. Binding arbitration is not a right or legal requirement. What more needs to be talked about? We can always agree to mediation, the benefit of which is that some unelected panel cannot determine our financial future. Power (in this case union power) does not yield without a demand. It will take a fight to change the inertia of expected automatic pay and benefit increases, which make no sense in the face of low inflation, lower housing prices, and reduced tax revenues, and assuming we can fill positions with qualified workers. Why agree to go into a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Unions have every right to exist and exert their power as they can; let's not give an arbitrary panel the power to tilt the balance toward unions.


Like this comment
Posted by PA Voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Scrap binding arbitration.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

If Gail Price's lack of participation in the Policy and Services Committee meeting(s) continues and thus prevents it from resolving the arbitration impasse, I would seriously question her ability to represent the citizens of Palo Alto. She consistently supports only union rights, not that of the residents and the City's efforts to resolve the serious budget problems it faces.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Recall Price, or at least vote her out. Repeal Binding arbitration. Public unions have become special interest #1.


Like this comment
Posted by Sonny
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm

The entire first two paragraphs are blocked by an ad for Local Journalism. There isn't any way to delete it. Anybody else having this problem?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Remove binding arbitration from the city charter.
Remove Price from the city council.


Like this comment
Posted by Lowest Bidder
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Why aren't ALL city services subject to the 3 bids and lowest bidder rules.
Current Union representation equals a single bidder with no competition.


Like this comment
Posted by Appreciate
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

It's a good thing these people still want to protect us at the pay they get...not to mention the lack of support from their community! Binding Arbitration just keeps it so the city can't dictate...


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I'm not sure "protecting" any one is their motivation. I think they are motivated by high pay, little work, minimal hours, more time spent sleeping or shopping than working, early retirement and huge pensions.

I'd like to see the city mgmt be very firm with the ff's and dictate marlet (much lower) compensation, fewer ff's sleeping away every night, defined contribution not benefit, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Appreciate
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

This binding arbitration issue has to do with both Fire AND Police. Both of these groups get paid for what they might have to do; ie: run into a burning building to carry us out, get shot protecting us, normal, everyday things we deal with as citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 1, 2011 at 8:40 am

Let's put this into perspective - our emergency service providers perform an important role but there is no justification for paying them significantly more than the marketplace requires. And there is certainly no justification for paying them more than we pay an Army or Marine Corps Major serving in Afghanistan and commanding 30 troops under battlefield conditions, or a NASA astronaut (who has a 1 in 500 chance of being killed doing her/his job) or, three times what we pay a US Forest Service Smokejumper for parachuting out of airplanes to fight forest fires.

Appreciation - YES
Compensation for risk - Comparable to others taking the same risks
Compensation for work done - As determined by the marketplace


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:41 am

"Peter Carpenter"
Are you saying salary should be tied to your chances for being killed on the job? If so farmers, construction workers and fishermen are under paid.
CEO's sure seem to be over paid, not too many of them are killed or injured on the job. Let's not forget professional athletes, or some college professors.
Our men and women in the military deserve respect and better pay. I noticed you mentioned Officers, when Officers have a much better chance of returning home instead of enlisted ground soldier. I guess your OK with the enlisted people being paid way less even if they get killed more often.
You also did not mention the facts surrounding, free housing, free medical care for life, food, retirement benefits (after 20 years),college tution perks, etc. Or the fact the overwhelming majority of those in the military do not perform duties and or functions that take them anywhere near a combat zone, ever. It takes a huge amount of people outside the combat zone to support a soldier in the field. Their duties are needed and deserve respect as well, but the facts will show they have little chance of being killed or wounded performing their non combat duties.
People in the military sacrafice a lot for the rest of us, they deserve better pay. I don't see goverment workers saying they shouldnt. Again, it's mostly Republicans and corporate america who rally against better pay for anyone. They are fine with with Defense Industry getting rich of war but the uniformed soldier can live like a college student and get shot at.
Smoke Jumping is something most of them do for a season or two. It's actualy an outdated mode of delivering firefighters into the fire area and most of them are injured in the jump itself. The pay must be OK because there does not seem to be a shortage of people willing to do it for a couple of seasons when they are young.


Like this comment
Posted by USMC
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm


Military deployments are 144 hours a week, 9-18 months at a time. Firefighter shifts are 56 hours a week, including a lot of time eating, sleeping, or watching TV between calls. Soldiers and Marines don't get overtime, and certainly don't have a union to lobby for more of it. While both jobs are punctuated by bursts of intense activity, for firefighters over 90% of the time this is a medical call. Very seldom is a firefighter in any real danger, as the statistics would attest (see the stats about farm workers and fishermen having much more hazardous jobs than firefighters). Soldiers and Marines, however, have no such luxury. An IED attack or a firefight can kill or maim you at any time, and the constant stress of this often leads to PTSD and worse. Lifetime healthcare is hardly a "perk" in the face of this.

The justification that a firefighter deserves such rich compensation from the public because of the danger in the job does not add up. We can no longer justify paying a firefighter a salary over 3X what a typical soldier or marine gets, and a pension thats about double.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm

USMC - thanks for addressing the military issues that were misstated by Jake.
As for Jake's equally erroneous statenents regarding smokejumpers:

1 - smokejumpers are used more today than 30 years ago as they remain the fastest and most cost effective way to place firefighters on the ground in remote timbered forests

2 - many smokejumpers work year around for the USFS and BLM and many retire after more than 30 years of jumping. in the off season they do other jobs like blister rust control and thinning v

3 - most smokejumpers fight more real fires in a month than city firefighters fight in a year.

I am glad that Jake acknowledged that when you have lots of applicants for a job that the pay scale is probably too high. Local fire agencies typically see 100 qaulified applicants for every opening.


Like this comment
Posted by Appreciate
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

It sounds like "Public Safety" should not be lumped together in the Binding Arbitration issue. Cops and FF are linked together as it sits right now, whether they like it or not...unfortunately, the cops aren't the ones sleeping and getting paid for it...yet they are also going to lose on the deal.

Things should be reformed, but to remove binding arbitration alltogether would virtually eliminate any cards the cops and FF have to negotiate.

It seems that everytime there is a budget issue in most any city, cops, FF, and teachers lose money, jobs, and/or benefits. Why is that? It's not like these people make enough to even live near the city they serve.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm

"USMC" I have never witten that any job deserves the pay they do because of the dangers of their job. I was responding to those who keep bringing up jobs with higher death rates. It's very obvious that the highest paying positions in the USA are not the jobs with the highest death rate. Any profession that wants to survive and advance should be looking at ways to prevent it's workers from being killed.
As you well know the vast majority of military workers do not work in a forward combat position. It's simply the facts of warfare. It takes many people outside of the combat area to support each soldier fighting.
If you measure combat soldiers death and injury statistics using other combat soldiers than they have a high death rate. But measure them against the total number of uniformed military members and they do not.


Like this comment
Posted by joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Do any of you realize the risk these firefighters take. They are willing to run into a burning building to save you and your family. They are willing to die for you at any given moment. They are here to protect us.Leave them alone and move on.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 1:59 pm

"Peter Carpenter"
Your kidding right? Smoke Jumping is something most of them do for a year or two. You are a prime example. Yes it's a hard job. You can also pretty much see how you take every opportunity you can to mention you were one and how hard it is, etc. Which reminds me of what my first officer told me, anyone who tells you how much they know, did or accomplished all the time probably didnt do anything.
Fighting forest fires the past 100 or so years has only really resulted in bigger, longer and more damaging fires. Maybe remote fires should be left to burn as nature intended.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm

"to remove binding arbitration alltogether would virtually eliminate any cards the cops and FF have to negotiate".

they still have the option of leaving and working elsewhere. or discussing with their manager their performance and how they have earned a raise. that is all i have.

but they also have the right to collectively bargain (not strike). i don't have that option. unlike some who post here (not directed towards Appreciate) i think we need to focus on balancing the budget and making sure future generations aren't saddled with debt because we elected politicians who were beholden to labor unions.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

"anyone who tells you how much they know, did or accomplished all the time probably didnt do anything".

wow, having you post that is like having the pot call the kettle black. very amusing!


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Jake - the inaccuarcy of your postings simply speaks for your lack of credibility. Nowhere in this thread did I mention that I was a smokejumper or a Vietnam combat veteran.

Deal with facts rather tha attacking other posters simply because you lack facts.

Fact - 98% of all smokejumper deaths, of which there have been far more per capita than deaths of urban firefighters , have been from fires not from jumping to those fires.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:19 pm

"Taxpayer" I notice you don't tell us all what you do for a living? And its "Peter Carpenter" who is constantly reminding us all that HE was a smoke jumper and that "smoke jumpers fight more fires in a month that City firefighters do in a year" pretty tall order. I'm sure I could find a FDNY member or Detroit FF who would be glad to enlighten Mr Carpenter on his "facts"
Please tell me ho much time every day that smoke jumpers, soldiers, etc spend actualy fighting? The actual time spent in a day fighting fires seems to be a major contention for many people on this board. I guess that is all that matters? Does the time the Marine spends training, traveling, conditioning, studying, drilling, etc not count then? Not my argument but if those duties don't count for firefighters than they shouldnt be counted for other positions.
A USFS smoke jumper is in operation usualy June through October? what do they do the rest of the year? what do they do when not actualy jumping and fighting fires? does that time mean they are slacking off?
Peter Carpenter only lists low level base pay, he doesnt list OT, per diem,etc.
News flash, most of the jobs I keep reading about by some of the posters here do not spent anywhere near the bulk of their time fighting, jumping. fighting forest fires. Many of these jobs also have paid medical, housing, meals, travel expenses, etc. I am not saying its not earned or right I am only saying you can't skip over the facts. I'd gladly take the same pay as a NonCom officer with 30 years if I was also getting, free housing, meals, medical, education, and retirement after 20 years.
And again, the vast majority of our military members are making a huge sacrafice for the rest of us and I recognize their efforts but most of them are NOT in combat or in a forward position.
Again, it's the reality of the military. You need many people to support a combat soldier.
Reading what I do it seems that responding to emergencies other than fires, medical calls, car accidents, rescues, fire alarms, gas leaks, haz mats, training, drilling, maintaing tools, equipment, etc does not count or is not important in the eyes of some.
And the number of applicants has no real bearing, applicants or "qualified" applicants is not the real issue.
Cities set the bar for what "qualified" is. Look at the news lately, set no or little requirements and you will get lots of applications in bad times. The few that are actualy getting hired most times are also paramedics, EMTs, have degrees, advanced training, state certs, experience, etc.
If a City makes the minimum requirement HS grad, valid license, 21 years of age and not much more I am sure the number of applicants will be high. The people who are actualy qualified to get hired are small. Cities use number of applicants as a tool for the papers, so they can say they got flooded with qualified applicants.
Even if they continue in the process they still have to pass written/physical tests (again made easy by cities). Background check (washes out many, medical, oral boards, etc.
Minimum qualifications for application is a joke in most cities. Those minimum qualifications have little in common with who is getting hired.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:23 pm

"Jake from Atherton" you sound very familiar to another poster just using another name.

I never wrote anyone was a vietnam vet, I have written Peter Carpenter has written many times about his being a smoke jumper for a very short time.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm

"Jake from Atherton", nice try.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 1, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Jake states:""smoke jumpers fight more fires in a month that City firefighters do in a year" pretty tall order. I'm sure I could find a FDNY member or Detroit FF who would be glad to enlighten Mr Carpenter on his "facts""

Interesting that Jake had to go all the way to Detroit and NYC to attempt to dispute my assertion.

The fact is that Bay area urban firefighters are the best paid in the country and they also have one of the lowest number of fires per month of any fire agency in the country - certainly far lower than smokejumpers who are literally moved from region to region to do nothing but fight fires. Some smokejumpers have jumped on three different fire in the same day.

Bottom line - Bay area firefighters are paid more than any others, are paid far more than others who work in equally or more demanding and equally or more risky jobs and we can no longer afford to perpetuate this extremely generous pay and benefit structure. This statement takes nothing away from either their professionalism or their dedication.

Here are a few salary comparisons:

1 - The pilot of Air Force One is a USAF Colonel usually with 20-25 years of service.

His base pay is $11,007.30/month or $132,087 /year

He also receives about $500/month or $6000/year of flight pay

He supervises a crew of approximately 26 (not including the Secret Service agents accompanying the President).

He can retire with 2.5% of the average of his last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

2 - a US Forest Service Smokejumper ( a firefighter who parachutes from airplanes to put out forest fires) are in GS-5 to GS-9 pay grades and start as $27,026/year and top out at $53,234/year at the top step level for non- supervisory ( includes crew chiefs but not management level) smokejumpers

MEDICAL AND PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS: Smokejumper duties present unusual hazards and require that personnel be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet demands for performance in the position and for human reliability. Before entrance on duty, and periodically during employment, smokejumpers must undergo a medical exam, physical conditioning, and an adeptness test. Failure to meet any of the required standards will be considered disqualifying for employment or a basis of termination. The adeptness test will be given in one time period and consists of performing 25 push-ups, 45 sit-ups, 7 chin-ups, and a 1.5-mile run which must be completed in 11 minutes or less. In addition to the work capacity test at the arduous level (as referenced under Other Significant Facts), a smokejumper pack-out test is required and consists of completing a 3-mile hike over level ground carrying a 110 pound pack in 90 minutes or less. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet the demands for human reliability and performance in the position.

3 -Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female helicopter aircraft commander in the history of Marine One, the HMX-1 helicopter the president of the United States flies on. She makes about $84,000 and she can retire with 2.5% of the average of her last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

4 - NASA's civilian astronauts are in the GS-11 through GS-14 pay grades, based on academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 astronaut starts at $59,493 per year; a GS-14 astronaut can earn up to $130,257 per year. To date 13 out of 321 who have flown in space have died in the line of duty or a fatality rate of about 4%.

In comparison, the firefighters in our District get paid on average $125,900 in salary and benefits.

Another point of comparison is what is happening to other public service workers locally:

1 - In Santa Clara County SEIU's roughly 1,700 local members agreed to accept work furloughs equal to 5 percent of their pay, effectively saving more than 50 full-time positions (but not all of them).

Almost all other Santa Clara County employees, including managers, agreed to furloughs of 7.5 percent of their pay.

2 - In Oakland the firefighters have agreed to increasing their workweek from 52 to 56 hours, while also taking an 8% hourly pay cut. This has the effect of leaving their overall yearly salary largely unchanged: decrease the pay, increase the hours. They also agreed to a change in the way the city covers their medical benefits. It will result in the union membership contributing about $300,000 more per annum, another good savings for the city. In total, the Oakland firefighters union has made about $6 million worth of concessions while not reducing the level of service they provide to the citizens. In fact, due to a complicated provision they were able to field an additional 41 paramedics at no increase in cost.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm

"Peter Carpenter"

I just read the 2010 USFS Smoke Jumper report online, It lists data for average days on fires per smoke jumper, average jumps per smoke jumper etc. I am sorry but the data listed in the report doesnt support your claims on how busy and active the average smoke jumper is. There are also a lot of "pre postioning" days listed, etc.
Obviously some jumpers are busier than others and a few of the postions drag the averages down.
You take issue it appears with my listing FDNY and Detroit but you are doing the same thing. There are very few USFS smoke jumpers period. A few hundred at best it appears. You use them as your argument "fight more fires in a month than city firefighters do in a year".
The data does not support your claims, yes I listed FDNY and Detroit because they are some of the more active units but the USFS smoke jumpers are also.
You also have a few units in the MPFD that are very active to say the least. They are not spending the majority of their time "eating and sleeping" as some posters write. Plus they are responding to wrecks, shootings, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

"Peter Carpenter"

I don't see your point and argument about Bay Area firefighters being paid more or one of the highest in the US? Almost everything in the Bay Area costs more and everyone in general is paid more in the Bay Area than their counterparts in most other places in the US. I'd be glad to be paid the same as a FF in Oklahoma City considering what housing costs are there. My standard of living would actualy go up.
Why should FFs in the Bay Area be the ones to get national average? do workers at every other job in the bay area get national average pay regardless of what it cots to live in the Bay Area?
People may disagree but $100,000 a year on the Peninsula is not living the life of Riley. The living costs around here are some of the highest in the US.
Lets face the facts, Ivy college, accomplished high tech CEO, Atherton home is a long way from being able to understand the ins and outs of trying to be a working stiff in the Bay Area. It doesnt take away from USFS 50 years ago but that was for a couple of seasons.
I don't see too many public workers living in Atherton, Woodside or Hillsborough?


Like this comment
Posted by Steven
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm

It's very tacky to try for sympathy by playing the "working stiff" card when you're collecting a 6 figure salary and gold plated pension paid for by the taxpayers, most of whom do not enjoy either.

I work more than 56 hours a week, and get zero overtime. If my productivity is insufficient to justify the market rate compensation I receive, I'm gone. There is no paid time for sleeping, or watching TV in the firehouse between calls. I'm tired of overpaying entitled public workers, and firefighters are the worst offenders.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Jake - Even when you adjust for the local CPI firefighters in the Bay area are paid more than any other fire fighters in the entire nation.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm

And if you use the CPI for where the Bay area firefighters actually live then their pay is even higher. Most Bay are firefighters live well outside the Bay area and some even live outside the state. Those who are off duty when the Big One hits will not here to serve the communities which employ them.


Like this comment
Posted by noonehere
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm

So, do you mean there will be NO ONE here for us?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

He said – she said – who is lying? Justice Brett Kavanaugh or PA resident Christine Ford
By Diana Diamond | 69 comments | 6,275 views

Let's Talk Internships
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 979 views

Couples: Sex and Connection (Chicken or Egg?)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 799 views

Zucchini Takeover
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 735 views

Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition
By Douglas Moran | 0 comments | 452 views